Rutilius stood at the rail and watched as the ship moved and turned away from all he had known previously in life.

The sail was unfurled, and they were catching the winds which bore them into mid channel toward the open sea beyond the harbor and its two watchtowers.

He thought he saw his father's hand raised in rigid salute, not waving, as he disappeared from view.

Rutilius turned his face away. Now that he was away from his father's authority and influence, he felt terrible, being wrenched away from his former life, all he knew and wanted to know, for what? for what? Yet he held clenched in his hand the imperial scroll, still sealed! He was just about to go below to his private stateroom, reserved for imperial envoys and commanders of fleets, when the captain, Firmus, came and saluted him.

"Sir, please step over here where we can talk more privately," he said, his eyes fixed on Rutilius's. "I think you should hear me before you open your instructions."

This seemed most strange to Rutilius, and even somewhat disrespectful from an inferior to his commander, but he saw the captain's serious eyes and expression, and he did as he suggested.

They went over to the opposite rail, where no soldiers of the maniple were standing, and then the captain spoke in a low voice.

"Whatever you were told previously, this ship sails under the aegis of Emperor Honorius, sir. You should know that before you decide anything."

Rutilius's thoughts whirled. He felt as if he had been struck. What? Had it been seized by Honorius from the control of Priscus Attalus? What was going on? Was he now a captive?

Firmus smiled grimly. "You need not fear for yourself and your safety. You are the commander here. It is just that your father, the Governor and Envoy from the Court, was forced to employ a slight subterfuge to get you and this ship safely away from Classis and the Prefect's authority. Otherwise, it would have been seized, and everyone, including yourself, seized and put under guard."

"Explain this, captain!" Rutilius ordered. "How can you dare to implicate my father in this ridiculous plot! I won't be party to it!"

"It is no plot, sir, it is the Emperor Honorius's express will. Your own father devised the ploy to accomplish it for your own sake and the sake of the Emperor. You see, Classis is really under the control, along with the prefect, of Senator Priscus Attalus and his Visigoth supporters. If you had proceeded to the main praetorium, you would have found all Visigoths and their chiefs manning it! They would never permit Honorius to send out a warship and envoy like this. We would be seized on sight, along with your father. So your father came with forged documents for the Prefect, bearing Attalus's seal. But it all had to be done quickly, the same day, lest Attalus hear of the warship he had not commissioned and have us quarantined and arrested. Hence the haste of launching you onward!"

As the captain explained, Rutilius's began to see that his first impression was wrong, that it had some sense, and perhaps this was really his father's will. After all, he had been surprised that his father had crossed over to supporting Senator Attalus, after serving Honorius so faithfully. But one ineffectual ruler was the same as the other! Attalus or Honorius, it hardly mattered these days, he knew. It was the dire Stilicho who held the reins of real power, and these two were but mere puppets fighting over the scraps that fell from Stilicho's banquet table!

Rutilius decided that the captain was telling the truth, but he would check it by reading the still sealed instructions.

"But these seals are those of Imperator Priscus Attalus!" he objected, just to see how Capt. Firmus would respond.

The captain smiled. "Wax is only wax after all. So were the documents for the Prefect sealed. But the orders, you will find, are directly from Emperor Honorius, our true emperor, not this Usurper! See for yourself!"

"No wonder Father did not want me to open them in the carriage! But I will see for myself!"

He left the captain where he was and went immediately down to his cabin, which was really a luxurious stateroom fit for an admiral. He tore off the seals and read it the moment he checked and saw he was alone, where he let no one enter while he was reading it, several times just to make sure he understood it right.

It WAS Honorius speaking! Priscus Attalus?-- it could not be! he saw, before he had finished even the first part of the instructions. Definitely, this was whom Firmus said it was!

After he lay the imperial message down, he sat and almost felt stunned by it all. He could not rid himself of the feeling that he had been somehow misused. He thought he must look a fool, to have been led about like a child, when others knew the truth and he did not. Yet how could he have suspected this grotesque twist of the whole affair? He had been involved in imperial politics for a long time, ever since he learned adminstration and its duties and methods from running the family estates and watching his father for years when he was growing up to manhood.

Politics were often a very dirty business, he fully understood, since far too often things hinged on expediency, and fine distinctions of morality and virtue had to be laid aside when the very suvival of the state was at stake. Yet he had managed until now to keep his hands relatively clean--no one had been executed or tortured unjustly so that his own policy might prevail--he had been careful about that, knowing that once hands are bloodied with innocent blood, a man must continue to shed more and more blood to keep his power and his place--until that man became a monster, as so many emperors had become. Oh, like Nero they had begun well, but they ended monsters, thanks to the god Expediency. So serving such a god was a risky thing. How far could one supplicate such a god with offerings before the god demanded a man's integrity along with the souls of men and their blood? That was the trick, knowing that point of no return and avoiding it somehow! Few if any men, he knew from all his readings of the state papers, had ever achieved that feat.

He could not blame his father now. His father had sacrificed a son's trust, to a degree, by not telling him everything, and treating his own heir like a pawn in a power game being played by two claimants to the Throne. Yes, his life and his father's too, and the Emperor Honorius's own secret mission, had been spared thereby--but...but it all seem somehow dirty, a soiling business to be involved in.

Priscus Attalus, or Honorius? Again, it was six of one or half a dozen of the other. What did it really matter when Stilicho held the real power? Why hadn't his father chosen to step down and retire to their southern estates and spend the remaining days of his life in ease and peace?--rather than play this sordid game for short-term gains, with his own son and sole heir involved in it? Was it chiefly for the sake of Honorius, who might be exiled or executed in a matter of days or weeks if something wasn't done to stop Stilicho? Surely, his father had better reasons than that.

Perhaps, if the fates allowed, he would ask his father his reason later.

But now? He had the whole mission thrust in his hands, and it was his duty as a Roman and a patrician too to see it through to the end.

He felt almost ashamed, however. It was inescapable. The captain knew the truth, and he had observed how the sleight of politics had been handled. Yes, it had succeeded apparently, but the pawn felt no less a pawn. Oh, if he had only refused to come to Classis and Ravenna at the his father's and the emperor's command! His life previously had been so simple and uncomplicated in comparison. He had been writing poetry, and he could have cultivated Poetry as his main pursuit if he so wished. Now he was forced to cultivate Politics and Religion--never a good couple in bed together!

Thinking of poetry, he felt an urge to write something that would resolve the terrible dilemma he felt, along with the stress and hurt to his pride he had suffered.

So he took a stylus and an a wax tablet from the writing table and sought the words. They came rushing out, so he did not have to stare at the tablet and struggle against its blank space.

"Janus, I name you my god on this dark night!

For you gaze two directions at once, do you not?

I too look two directions, down opposite roads,

and am greatly troubled in spirit.

Pity me, your distressed son, Great Janus!

Horror has overwhelmed me,

bringing trembling and fearfulness.

O that I had wings of a dove,

to fly away from all this strife and be at rest!

I would wander far off,

and remain in the wilderness,

thus I would escape the windy storm

and abide safely away from the tempest that sweeps the world.

May they be destroyed who bring strife to the City and violence!

Day after day they prowl around her walls,

like wild dogs they seek a way in.

Men of deceit, they have broken down the borders and fences,

beasts now rush into the gardens and trample the holy precincts of the temples within.

May the gods bring them all down to destruction--

these bold and deceitful men who shall not live out half their days!

Let great Mars unsheathe his sword blazing as the sun!

From Hadrian's wall to Aea's haze, all alone the limes, let Roma arise in her greatness and resolve and might,

and once again the darkness of the barbarous races be dispelled and driven away--and...and..."

He couldn't think anymore. He felt a block in his heart. What followed? He had no idea.

Rubbing out the unfinished poem, since few Romans, other than a poet, would voluntarily admit to such distress of mind and spirit, he dropped it back on the desk and went to the upper deck to get some fresh air and a sea breeze to clear his troubled mind.

He found the captain was near his door as if waiting there when he stepped out, and the captain bowed and stepped toward him.

What now? Rutilius thought, not wanting to speak with him at the moment.

"At your command, sire! We are on course for Spoletum of Dalmatia, Governor-Commander. Is that acceptable to you? Change our course for any other, if that is not your choice."

"Not Aquileia, Captain? Why Diocletian's native city? I have no particular reason or desire to visit it. It is no longer the capital or a royal residence. It is considered a backwater after all."

"But Port Aquileia is just the opposite, and for that very reason is best avoided, sir. All the main roads, north and south, east and west, meet there, and traffic by sea is equally thick, and our enemies watch from that port whomever is passing--and so no one escapes being detected, however well he cloaks himself! Then in addition we are yet too close to both Visigoths and Ostrogoths and their chiefs, and the Usurper has some warships perhaps on this sea that could intercept us. And we might pick up news at Spoletum which will tell us what course is best to take on the southerly and easterly routes if we wish to avoid enemies."

Rutilius nodded. "All right then, to the backwater of Spoletum! But I want posted a double watch tonight at both bow and stern. In case we encounter a hostile ship, we need to be first to spot it and turn aside, lest Attalus receive a report of us and the direction we are heading. And sink any ship that comes across our bow to stop us. As for survivors, they can be sold at the next port! We will not surrender or turn back for anyone!" The captain bowed, having already taken the precaution of a double watch, then turned away, leaving Rutilius alone with his thoughts.

The Captain had chosen well, Rutilius found. In the morning, Spoletum's forum turned out to be a gushing fountain of news, just what they were wanting to hear, in fact. Honorius had saved his young skin, preserved his shaky throne by the only decisive act he could claim up to this point: he had given the order for Stilicho's arrest and execution. Honorius's men had captured Stilicho and strangled him--removing the greatest threat to Honorius there could possibly be, other than Alaric I and the Visigoths and the other the barbarians pressing down on Roma, of course.

It was tremendous news for Rutilius to absorb. Stilicho, the bane of Roma, dead! It was shocking enough news to make a battle-scarred veteran or gladiator swoon. They had gotten it from the commander of a warship in the harbor also bearing Honorius's ensign. A dozen ships, merchants and warships from the Eastern Empire were docked there too, and their captains and commanders confirmed the news to Rutilius when he sent his greetings and inquiries to them. The details of the arrest and execution were very explicit, and Rutilius thought the news had to have been brought that way by fast-riding imperial couriers. How did the young emperor get up the courage to do it? He had to find the right commander and men for the secret mission, and truly he laid his life and future in their hands. Should they fail, or the news about them leak out to Stilicho, Honorius was finished and would be hunted down with dogs like a deer in the swamps.

Now what? Perhaps, Honorius, with Stilicho permanently out of the way, was anxious to reassure the Arcadius, the Emperor of the Eastern Empire that he was now in total control of the West, to prevent any action from the Eastern Emperor to regain the West for the Romans.

Now the mission given him made such better sense too! Honorius obviously wanted to know if the Eastern god, Christus, upheld by the Orthodox Eastern Christians, was the best and most politic one to convert to, a conversion that would consolidate his own throne in the West against the Arian Christian barbarians of Alaric. If Christus's claims concerning his divinity and his resurrection were at least credible, that would decide it for the wavering Honorius, who probably saw little loss in exchanging Roma's old, distant gods for this vibrant new faith in Christus. So Honorius hadn't gone mad after all!

As for Alaric, who had lost his chief ally and was threatening to march on Roma to avenge past slights, well, that was something the emperor would have to deal with in its time, and who could say what would happen?--perhaps a bribe would buy him off yet another time? Offer him pepper and gold--that was what barbarians prized most of all, he knew!

The way was now clear to Rutilius to proceed, and with less thought of interception, for Attalus was in a greatly weakened position, despite the Visigothic backing. His days were indeed numbered, with a suddenly revived and purposeful Honorius hot on his trail!

Before he gave command to sail, Rutilius rethought the itinerary as he surveyed the maps the captain brought to his cabin. After this great news about Stilicho's downfall, and his own new understanding of Honorius's intentions, he had second thoughts about his itinerary. Why proceed directly to Caesarea by the more lengthly, intricate south and westerly route? There was no direct way there to Caesarea, as everyone knew, so ships hugged the shorelines. He had all of Achaea and the Pelopponessos to navigate around, and Crete and Rhodes and Cyprus, then a sail down past Antioch the capital of Syria Major, until he came to Caesarea, once the seat of the procurator of Judaea, and still the administrative center for that district. It was considered the safest route, as a sail across the broad Sea, directly south to Libya and thence easterly to Alexandrea ad Aegyptus, was considered foolhardy, even suicidal, should a storm catch them.

He knew that some ships took the direct route to Alexandrea, despite the threat of storms at sea. The more he considered it, however, the more attractive it became to him compared to the long, complicated route to the East, but the one most ships, both commercial and for state purposes, took--if they had no business in the Eastern Empire's capital, of course.

Alexandrea, the Great Whore of Aegyptus? Should he really strike for her first?

It seemed a wild thought at first, but the more he thought about it, the more reasons favored it in his mind. He'd avoid all those ports he really didn't want to see at this time, and Alexandrea would be a good provisioning site as well as center of the latest news and finally a jumping off point for Caesarea. It would greatly simplify his route, if he were to head directly south instead and try to land at Alexander's city. Should he? Or shouldn't he? He was in a quandary.

His mind whirled with thoughts, some about his own safety of course, but mostly centered, around Christus!



When he called the captain to hear his decision, Firmus showed no visible surprise, for by his lack of expression he seemingly took the news of the dramatic change in course as a routine thing for such a veteran mariner. This Rutilius appreciated in the man, not wanting to explain himself in tedious detail, for he really had no good rationale for the change, except that it simplified things in his mind and also touched upon "the larger questions" as well.

Having never been that far south, never having set his foot in Hither Africa for that matter, Rutilius looked forward to the new experience. He knew Alexandrea was the third greatest city for trade in the Empire, and there he could easily draw on lines of credit at the many bankers who operated on the main thoroughfare, the Canopic Street. Then with his magnificent emeralds for special bribes to various difficult authorities if need be, he would not lack the means to do anything he needed to fulfill his mission to the Emperor Honorius.

He himself was carrying news of Stilicho's fall, of course, which might not be news yet in Alexandria, but surely, if he remained there a few days, fresh news would arrive as well by other ships, and he would know even more. Would Alexandrea care so much about Honorius, however? Probably, not so much as a fig! This great city founded by Alexander the Great now belonged to the Eastern Empire, as Emperor Diocletian had divided the Empire during his reign earlier on in the 4th Century. Though reduced to a provincial capital since Cleopatra's line was extinguished and her son by Marcus Antonnius put to death, it still was acclaimed both West's and East's Third City, after Constantine's City, Nova Roma on the Golden Horn and Roma on the Tiberius. But in that respect the news among the Alexandrians would be more trustworthy, as the people then had little or nothing to gain by embroidering the truth about a struggling, young, inexperienced Western emperor like Honorius or even lying outright about him--since his very name among them would at best provoke a yawn or a faint smile.

Cosmopolitan Alexandrea, the teeming entrepot of Africa and the fabled East, was not the place for cultivating ignorance and narrow-mindedness, not with so many well-travelled people from all over the world congregating there, to buy and sell, then indulge themselves in the pleasures of a great city that supplied all that could be bought! Everyone in Roma had heard how in Alexandria the least of the people were so sophisticated and well-versed in the world's knowledge, that liars, imposters, and frauds were given short shrift. They were soon exposed and, if not beaten and fined, were laughed out of town, as they were quickly found out by the well-informed populace. Satires and cutting epigrams had even been composed about Caracalla, which brought him fuming to the city, to call a massacre of every arm bearing-aged young man in retaliation. They paid a high price for those satires that portrayed him as a talking donkey bragging about how he had consorted with a whole stable of she-camels, and drowned his own brother to get his feed-bag! No, humbug, even an emperor's, was not a business to be engaged in at Alexandria. Better try gullible Roma, they'll believe anything there--and pay richly for it too!" was a popular saying he had heard go the rounds, and he could not argue with it being true. The worst frauds and swindlers became Roma's greatest celebrities, earning millions in some cases in their careers. Simon the Magian, he was just one of a tribe of such charlatans, who practiced all sorts of trickery, exhibiting so-called magic powers of flight and sorcery, and they were showered with gold in payment for duping the masses! Simon used an enormous cow's bladder, inflated with heated air and attached to his back by a halter of ropes, to sail off Roma's tallest pillar, and while all Roma watched something went wrong when he launched--perhaps a sewn seam sprang a leak, for the bladder holding him aloft deflated suddenly--pffft! followed by a spiraling whoosh! whoosh!, whoosh!--and he plummeted, screaming to his death on the flagstones two hundred feet below.

Was that a lesson for the magicians to sober up and get out of town? Not at all. The next week all they were as busy as ever, pulling in crowds of suckers who couldn't throw their money at them fast enough.

But what else would he do in Alexandrea? He wanted to visit the Library, or what was left of it from the Bishop Theophilus's depredations, and the other main sight other than the Pharos, the many-storied Lighthouse that dominated the skyline of the harbor.

Though surviving partly in anexes to the lost original, the Library was as good as Roma's, he had been told, and perhaps even larger in the number of authors he wanted to confer with regarding the Christus. Surely there he would be able to make up for the loss of so many Sibylline Oracles! Stilicho, mighty as he had been, hadn't been able to reach as far as Alexandrea and burn incriminating books at its famed Library! No doubt he had wanted to do it--and would have, but for his "untimely" demise!

"What supplies will you want at this port, Commander?"

The captain's voice brought Rutilius sharply back to focus on the scene at hand.

"Oh, the usual necessities..."

But he paused. Suddenly, his own voice startled him. "We won't need the soldiers after all, and will retain the full crew, however. I will dismiss the soldiers personally, and they will report to the nearest praetorium that is subject to Emperor Honorius. I will do it at once, so you can get the ship ready for sailing."

Going up to the deck, Rutilius stood while the soldiers were ordered by their sergeant to mass together before him. Standing on the rudder deck, he ordered them to report to the praetorium in Aquileia, if it was subject still to Honorius, otherwise they were to proceed to Ravenna. If they deserted or disobeyed his commands, their names were taken, and they would be apprehended and executed. He addressed the centurian present, committing the soldiers to his command and responsibility, then dismissed them all.

It was time to go ashore and see the palace of Diocletian he had heard so much about, while the captain made the ship ready.

He was greeted by Varus Hortius Quintillius, the Prefect of the City, who took him on a tour. The great amphitheatre, the baths, etc., Rutilius thought they compared favorably with Roma's, but he was more interested in the immense palace Diocletian had spent his last days in after retiring from the throne. No one else had ever done that! Why? Perehaps he could find out on his personal inspection?

He found the palace as immense as it had been reported to him--even the gate looked like a palace, not a mere gatehouse.

All the servants and guards seemed surprised that a high official was on the premises. Apparently, it hadn't happened for quite some time. But despite the confusion and awkwardness of his attendants, he was shown to the temple chapel where Diocletian was worshiped as a god, with a statue of himself as Jupiter's son, Jovius, which was how Diocletian preferred to see himself deified--the son of the chief god of Roma's pantheon. Here the imperial cult was not very active, he found, as no priests hurried out to greet him, and he saw no offerings, nor was any incense curling upwards from the huge incense bowl.

"What has happened?" Rutilius inquired of Varus. "Does no one respect the god Jovius no longer here? This sanctuary seems totally neglected."

The Prefect coughed, recovered himself, and offered an explanation. "But Governor, it is so early in the day, no doubt the faithful will be coming shortly to bestow rich offerings and burn incense to the god."

"No doubt," said Rutilius, shaking his head over such a lame excuse for the impious citizenry of Spoletum. After all, wasn't Diocletian their native son?

Then he proceeded to the Mausoleum, and found it filled with flower wreaths that covered the imperial effigy, the marble face carved to the likeness of the emperor's death mask.

He turned to the Prefect, who was now more disposed to tell Rutilius the reason for the general lack of piety among the Dalmatians and the many Pannonians who quartered there in considerable numbers too. But Rutilius was a bit confused by what he saw there. People still give Diocletian's remains their flowers and respects? Was he really that beloved by the people if they seem to care so little about his deified form?

"Oh, no," the Prefect corrected him. "They have stopped commemorating him in any fashion long ago. These are from Christians, remembering all the families and family members he had executed for their faith and not presenting incense to the gods as he demanded."

Rutilius was not satisfied. A hundred years and more had passed, yet the wreath-giving still sent on, and the ones he found there were fresh! They must have just been laid there. He turned back to the Prefect.

"There are so many, Governor, they must be removed each day," the Prefect added, when Rutilius commented on the freshness of the flowers.

Rutilius was invited to dinner at the Prefect's palace, which was one wing of the now mostly shut-up imperial palace of Diocletian, but he declined.

"My mission is most important, and entails that I leave at once. We only stopped here for supplies of water, wine, and grain, and to gather news. Do you have any information or letters for me? I will take them now and go to my ship."

The Prefect bowed, but he had nothing more of note to show Rutilius, as the palace and the amphitheatre were the chief sights in his decaying city. Rutilius wasted no more time touring, and hurried to the ship. By now, he thought, Firmus had gathered any needed supplies, as well as made the ship ready. Rutilius was anxious to leave Spoletum anyway, as the sight of the fresh wreaths in the Mausoleum and none in the Chapel left a bad impression. Was the entire city Christian? What had happened to the state religion of Roma that so great an emperor as Diocletian had suffered such an eclipse in the his fame and love among the Roman people? What made it even more shocking was that Diocletian was Dalmation, and the Dalmation people in the region of Spoletum apparently shunned him too! Could the emperor be so hated and despised for what he had done to Christians? This didn't bode well for Roma--that the Christian population, now in the majority in many provinces, had such long memories. Wouldn't they just as well let the empire go to barbarians whom, in many cases, had turned Christians after the teachings of Arius?

"A house divided will fall." He knew that adage as well as anyone else. He had hoped that the state religion of deified emperors would at least be respected by Christians in principle-- for the sake of the empire's unity and cohesion. But at Spoletum it was clear now to him that was not happening. Either Roma turned entirely Christian or it would gradually fall apart or be overrun and occupied by the barbarians. That seemed clear to him. You could not have both pagan and Christian--they were oil and water in a union that could not stand. Making Christianity the official state religion was a stop-gap by Constantine to keep the empire from splitting apart. But it continued crumbling! That couldn't be stopped by any plastering over of the cracks! As for Constantine, he played both sides--thinking to keep the present state of things at least preserved during his reign. Helios the sun god, as he liked to have himself portrayed in immense images set up in basilicas and temples alike and atop gigantic pillars as well, he cultivated Christian things as well, removing all state onus from the religionists, halting the persecution. Then he was baptized at his order when he was on his deathbed, laying aside his royal robe of purple for the simple white tunic of the baptized neophyte Christian! That was the best Constantine could do, to mix oil and water and keep them together as long as he was alive. But it didn't hold! It couldn't hold together. Stilicho had seen to that, befriending even the greedy for spoil, Alaric the Visigoth! And Roma was nearly overrun as a consequence--with multitudes fleeing from the northern provinces to supposed sanctuary in the south! But for how long would they be safe, with Alaric on the prowl? Not long, it was certain. And here, he, son of Lonchonius, was leaving the mad scramble of what was left of Roman law and order for...for what? He hadn't the slightest idea!

Rutilius reached the ship and was saluted by the captain. "Ready to sail? If so, let us launch at once."

That said, Rutilius went directly down to his cabin as the gangplank was drawn with a crash on the deck, the anchor ropes untied and pulled up, and the sails swifly unfurled by the mariners. He wanted to turn around the worst way, after realizing what a folly it was to try to make oil and water congeal, but he couldn't bring himself to disobey an imperial order. He was not his own man, after all. He was the emperor's subject and must do his duty, regardless of his private misgivings.

If Roma's prospects were damned--for which the the barbarians could not wholly be blamed-- so be it! he thought. He would still, as his father charged him, play the Roman to the bitter end. What else was there to do, for a Roman?

He sat down at his writing table and secretary, and taking up his stylus and a wax tablet, he tried to commit some of his thoughts to the wax.

"Stranger God of the Christians, unknown to me!

Are you my enemy or friend?

Speak whatever you will to me!

I go seeking You, for my Emperor's sake..."

He dropped the stylus and rubbed out the tablet. It would shame him if anyone saw those words of his, though they were the truth! After all, he was not a man given to mystery religion, nor to folk piety--reason was his lodestone. Everything must answer to reason and what men of learning had preserved down through the centuries.

He thought about Lady Fulvia, wondering how she was getting on. Would they ever talk together again?

Would the Fates be kind and award him with such a pleasure?

But he had a business to complete, that might take him into places of no return, for all he knew.

He went and reclined on his couch, intending to rest, but his thoughts continued to occupy him.

What about the Christus and his claims anyway? Even though the Emperor had commanded him, it wasn't the full truth that he was only going this journy for his sake, was it?

His whole being was caught in the question, now that he felt freer to confess it to himself.

He had encountered the Question before, in many manuscripts including the Archives, particularly the letters sent during the reign of Tiberius concerning the death and crucifixion of Christus.

But he had his administrative duties then pressing strongly on his time and energy, so he had not thought the Question important enough then to give his full consideration to.

But now, with the Emperor's command directing him, he was forced to face the question full face.

Suddenly, he saw a certain insistent youth's familiar face, and the voice again in his ears, asking him pointedly what he thought about Christus, whether he really rose from the dead or not, or was what he claimed to be, the Son of God?

Rutilius sighed. He had forgotten the British boy until now, but surely this was a sign that he too was woven into this strange weaving of the fates--and a hand was directing the tiller that even he could not countermand.

Since he found he could not rest from his thoughts, Rutilius rose and went up on deck.

He wanted to see what had been going on, whether they had sighted another ship or not.

After several days sailing directly south, following the ancient sea-lane of the Cretans and later the traders of Tarshish and Carthage, they reached the western Libyan coast, and sighted Berenice, the port on the upper eastern edge of the gulf of Syrtus Maior. Here they quickly provisioned with water, bread, grapes, and wine, both good wine and the cheapest kind, then sailed up and around the hump of Libya, passing Cyrenae at Rutilius's order and onwardfs through the Libycum Mare toward Alexandrea.

All this was known to the captain, and there was no surprise when the lookout high above on the mast called out, "Pharos!"

Rutilius came up from his cabin to take a look, for all this was new country to him. The tallest building in the world, it could be seen for many miles out to sea. During the day huge mirrors reflected the sun, which flashed across the sea in all directions, drawing ships to its harbor before they could even sight the Pharos itself. He had even read an ancient account once that told of the time of the earliest gods, Titans, who built an even taller tower on the same site, and put a deadly light in it that could dart out and burn up ships far out at sea. Could that have happened? It seemed possible, particularly as he now was so close to the mystery-lands of Hither Libya and Hither Africa, of which absolutely nothing was known, as whole armies sent into them long ago by the Kings of Persia to explore their trackless wastes had vanished admist the drifting hills of sand, not a single man returning.

No wonder civilized men hugged the narrow coasts! At night the Pharos could be seen at much greater distances. Fires lit on top could be seen as much as 30 miles away by ships at sea.

But the Pharos, welcome sight to anxious mariners, wasn't really a good omen for him as it turned out. To them it meant they had reached safe anchorage, with north winds to convey them into the harbor, where they could quickly unload their goods in the port that never slept, then go out on the town and debauch themselves with wine and the port harlots.

That was what the mariners aboard had to look forward to--so different from Rutilius's expectations. What was he expecting? He wasn't sure anymore. Nothing seemed to go right after Rutilius prayed his prayer to the Unknown God. At first it started with little things--stubbing his toe on a step going up to the deck, next spilling ink on the front of his best tunic, for example, ruining it, even, lastly, just as the ship was nearing the Pharos, finding an adder in his cabin that made the fatal mistake of crawling out just then from under his bed instead of striking at his heels from cover. What should be made of this? he wondered. Snakes of course found them way aboard ships after climbing into cargo, even entering water jars to be carried aboard ship; what a nasty shock a mariner or a cook's assistant sometimes got if he thrust his hand and dipper in without first checking for an occupant!

It was known to happen occasionally--yet Rutilius felt this time it was no accident, as soon the run of mishaps, including the snake, progressed to the point that things b

ecame far more serious. Wasting no time in his going, Rutilius left his cabin just when a slave porter was carrying up a big jar of olive oil. It may have sprung a leak, for oil escaped the jar and splattered down the gangplank. Afraid of being punished for the mishap, perhaps, the slave retraced his steps, sloshing more oil about. Rutilius started down the gangplank. He wasn't looking down. His eyes were on the magnificent, Poseidon-topped lighthouse looming overhead.

The next thing he knew both his feet shot out from under him, and he was sailing over the side of the gangplank, head extended.

His forehead must have grazed a ram-headed post for tieing up ships, and he was knocked senseless and collapsed and lay still--but not for long. The porter cried for help, and men jumped from the ship and rushed to help Rutilius back to his feet.

He couldn't stand, however--so they had to lay him back down and get a big piece of sailcloth to convey him on. Yet he wasn't entirely senseless, even with his eyes closed, the colossal building, the last thing he had seen above him, turned round and round in his head.

The captain heard about Rutilius's bad fall just as he was finishing checking Rutilius's cabin for any more snakes that could be lurking on the premises. The captain cursed the gods he thought had tripped him up. He should have known this could happen. Rutilius was always one to strike out alone, without attendants, he knew, but he shouldn't have let him go ahead of his men!

He ran to the scene, and Rutilius was carried back on board the ship, immediately followed by an inquiry of the captain. He had to find out how it had happened that his chief ward was put in such bad condition. The porter's role was indentified and he was dragged to him, but after being satisfied that the slave had only been clumsey, he released him and sent him away. A Greek-trained doctor from the Pharos infirmary was fetched, and he examined the unconscious man, then applied alternate cold and heated cloths to his head, after binding the bad bruise on his forehead.

After some time, Rutilius's eyelids flickered, and then he struggled to get off the couch, but the doctor pressed him back down. Observing from the edge of the room, Firmus was greatly relieved and he stopped sweating with anxiety. Perhaps he wouldn't be relieved of his duty and his ship taken away, he thought.

"You must rest, Commander!" the doctor commanded Imperial Envoy Rutilius, as only a doctor would dare. "Try not to move or exert yourself. You had a very bad fall, and I have bandaged your head. Please do not move for a while, and we shall see how you do once you have rested. I have some water brought, mixed with wine and a little portion of a drug for pain. Here--"

Rutilius sipped the refreshment, then lay back, resting as he was ordered, his eyes closed. The soporific soon took effect, and he felt nothing more.

An hour later, he wanted to move again, and the doctor re-examined him. Rutilius was asked to move his limbs, while the doctor judged whether he was able to get up or not.

"How do you feel now?" the doctor inquired, as he helped Rutilius to a sitting position. By now the drug had worn off.

"Doctor, my head feels like it is splitting in two pieces! Give me something for it, please!"

The doctor smiled and shook his head. "Well, that is not the worst it could do, not after your bad fall and nasty knock on forehead. As for the aching, some little hurting is good for you. Bear it like a man this time, will you, sire? That way I can tell for sure if there is a serious injury or not."

Despite Rutilius's protests, he began to gather his bag of medical items, with a slave helping him. Then he turned back to Rutilius and the captain who was standing by. "I advise caution in how much you do today, sire, it is best to do as little as possible, and remain resting here. Tomorrow, I will return to see how you have mended. If things go well, you should be able to go about your business, with care of course. You don't want to agitate the humors in your head too much, so I advise little excitement, and only a little travel at first. Please call me if you have any problems!"

The doctor departed, and the captain stood gazing at Rutilius.

Rutilius frowned. He had no thought to reprimand the captain for his own accident, which he thought was entirely his own fault. As for the porter, no one yet had told him how spilt olive oil had greased the gangplank.

"This really isn't convenient," the patient groused. "I wanted to go at once to the Library, what part of the Museum is still open to guests, and begin meeting the scholars and historians of the city, and only after that proceed to the bankers on the Canopic Street. Now I shall have to wait! No museum, no banking! What a nuisance!"

Finally, after his complaint, he noticed the captain standing quietly observing him.

"I'll be fine," he told the captain. "You may go now. My attendants can check on me for my needs. Meanwhile, you may move the ship over to the docks of the city, as I won't be touring the Pharos. I'd just as soon not see it, it has been spinning so many times in my head, I hate any more sight of it!" The captain saluted, thanking his gods that his commander was not angry and holding him responsible for the injury, and went and got an ostrich plume fan and had an attendant use it to cool Rutilius as well as apply cooling damp cloths to his forehead.

Only after his commander's comfort was seen to did Firmus hurry to get the ship moved.

Presently, Rutilius, lying with his eyes closed but not asleep, heard men a lot of footfalls overhead on the deck, shouted orders to the dozens of shackled slaves below decks, the oars suddenly thrust out, the iron oarlocks banging as thirty oars a side smacked the water, and the hull shifted one way and the next, the hull beams groaning, then they began cruising along the long causeway, the heavily structured Heptastadion, through the low waves toward the city proper a mile away.

They were soon at the city and the chief part of its five districts, and Rutilius could tell the moment they reached it, as the hull bumped and banged against the dock before they were secured with taut ropes.

Docked, the vessel stopped moving, and this caused Rutilius to want to sit up and call for his attendant to bring his clothes.

He felt eager to attend to business he had planned, but he didn't--as he recalled the doctor's word to him, that it might not go well for him if he exerted himself too much early on.

But his mind was so active, he couldn't just lie there, while the whole world was actively going about its business.

He could tell this was a very great city because of the vibration on the hull of the vast amount of noise it made. And what a babble of languages was spoken on the wharves--he thought he recognized some Greek and Latin, but many others, he had never heard before.

Only the greatest cities sounded like that--the center meeting place of the wide world. It excited him, as if he were back in Roma, in the very Capitol! There was nothing like being in the heart of a world capital, and Alexandria had those same sounds, like that of a vast, well-oiled, powerful engine, comparable to the type he had seen once on a visit to Roma's the huge hydraulics works. Shown them by the chief engineer, they regulated and diverted the flows of the many aqueducts of Roma to a thousand different lines and fountains, pools and private imperial lakes. "Compare the aqueducts of Roma to the idle monuments of the Greeks and Egyptians," the man said. "Are they not greatly superior?"

But his thoughts made him uneasy too. He must not excite himself overly much! he continually had to remind himself.

Though he had sent an entire squad of soldiers away, he retained only four men, of them two trusted, fully armed bodyguards on hand, Flautus and Mercurius who guarded his cabin door. After all, there could be assassins on board sent by the Usurper--that was a matter of course in the politics of the day, he knew. Why should your enemy go to the trouble and expense of sending an army after you, when one man or two could do the job nicely? Even an army couldn't protect him. Armies couldn't even protect emperors from being assassinated by their own officers and troops! No, two trustworthy bodyguards were as good as an army.

Then there were Scipio and Tyrannus, for his personal needs--his grooming, supplying him with food and wine, clothing him, running errands and messages, carrying his trunk, etc.

Four only! More of an entourage would draw too much attention to him, he knew, and he didn't want that, if he wished to avoid assassins. Few servants were necessary on travels, he found. He was far more mobile that way. Some government officials favored many uniformed attendants just to impress other officials and the people they visited with a great show of pomp. But he found he could move about wherever he wished, and wasn't hampered in the least if he forewent the showiness of a Somebody.

So he turned to the man, Scipio--a burly African, half Greek and half Italian from Sarepta--and had him fetch his writing tablet and stylus. Perhaps he could do something on his elegy of Roma? For the first time since his mishap, he forgot it, and was interested.

But the bandage was already soaked with sweat in the stuffy cabin, despite Tyrannus's busy fan.

"I want a fresh one, Tyrannus," Rutilius said.

The servant changed the bandage as Scpio looked on.

That done, Rutilius tried to gather his thoughts and write a line or two of poetry. It was hard going, he found, as his thoughts refused to focus as sharply as they once did. It was like trying to push a wheelbarrow with bricks uphill!

He reached up and touched the bandage where he felt something was not quite right. His head seem to be bruised there, and so he withdrew his hand. "I must have banged my head on something going down," he though. Then he tried again to write.

But his thoughts were not on Roma while he lay so close by Alexandria. He couldn't help but think of this strange metropolis, which he had not yet seen, but which he had heard so much about all his life.

Cleopatra's haunt, it had long exited Roman imagination. Julius Caesar's name would forever be connected with her and this city too. Not to mention, Marcus Antonius's! What a fool he was for that cunning Ptolemaic seductress! Becoming lovers, Antonius had lost everything by pursuing her and catering to her mad whims, going down to defeat and doom just to satisfy her burning desire to make herself queen over Roma and Egypt, the two realms combined in one great one, with her native city Alexandria casting Roma in eclipse as its most splendid capital!

Their madcap love affair carried on across three three continents ended in her suicide and his flaming meteor-like destruction too, also by his own hand--but that was to be expected when they came up against the likes of the young, determined, brilliant Octavianus--the kind of adversary who left nothing to chance. He proved he had the gods' favor, and they did not, losing the pivotal sea battle of Actium to Octavianus.

He wondered if he could compose a few lines about this fateful tryst on which great, powerful, wealthy empires, Cleopatra's and also Marcus Antonius's, foundered and smashed to pieces--all for the sake of mad ambition, pride, and love of a man for a particularly alluring Oriental queen. Many poets had tried their art on this subject, he knew, and it was still of great interest to people. Why shouldn't it continue to be of interest for coming centuries? There was so much to the story, it could never be fully exploited.

The spectacle of this defeated queen of Aegyptus, who gambled everything on Antonius and his love for her, was beyond anything else in story and poetry except perhaps the war of Troy. Seeing all was lost, her kingdom, her throne, her lover, her ambitions, her dreams of being deified as Isis, the whole world made to fall and worship at her feet, Cleopatra was determined no one would see her paraded in chains in Roma in Octavianus's triumph.

Her choice? She did what a woman of consummate pride would do. He thought of the poisonous asp in a simple woven basket, taken from the snake charmer, and brought to her under a fabric of gold-thread. Cleopatra, her palace by the sea beseiged by the forces of the generals under Octavianus, stared at the covered basket for a few moments. But she couldn't delay very long in what she had to do to escape capture. She first drank some scented, drug-laced wine, then thrust her hand into the basket, seized the snake, and then pressed it to her breast. That writhing, black and red striped, deadly fanged asp lay and bit her several times where Marcus Antonius, and Julius Caesar too before him, had lain their heads.

He could see it in his mind's eye, as the serpent clung to her naked breast as she rose from her couch and staggered to reach the doorway to the shrine of Isis that adjoined her bed-chamber. But she didn't reach it, she failed to lay her body a supreme and noble sacrifice before the goddess as she had planned--nor would it have done her any good, as Octavianus's generals were right then ramming in the very door, their soldiers cutting down her black Nubian guards with their stabbing swords, while others smashed the Goddess Isis with axes and clubs and killed the officiating priests and priestesses huddling there.

She collapsed on the floor, falling to her knees, then onto her face as her attendants rushed to catch her, after being shocked by the sight of her seizing and pressing that hideous, black snake to her chest. That was how the Roman generals found her--lying sprawled on the floor admist the contents of a bowl of fruit, a vulgar sight, indeed, in such an elegant palace where everything was maintained in perfect order.

But Rutilius had to stop reviewing all these events. He was breathing too heavily, and his forehead was throbbing beneath the bandage. He let the stylus and tablet drop, and they fell to the floor and were retrieved by Scipio as Rutilius laid back on his pillows to rest a while more.

It was evening when he awoke, and he felt a burning thirst in his dry throat. He croaked to whoever crouched close by, and a moment later a cup of water was given him, with a little wine mixed in to render it safe. Egyptian diseases, borne by the fetid black water of the River Nilotus, were famous!

He gulped the liquid down, and felt better. He was wide awake now, and saw it was evening, as lamps were lit in the cabin. But he wasn't going back to sleep. He thought he might try to get up.

Calling on Tyrannus and Scipio for a staff, it was brought, then he rose up uncertainly, but felt nothing adverse, and stood. He took some slow steps, then moved toward the steps.

"I am going up on deck," he told his men, and they then went with him, walking close to him to catch him if he fell backwards.

The captain was surprised to see him on deck so soon, but could do nothing to stop his own commander from going where he pleased, so he said nothing and watched him silently--which Rutilius appreciated, for he hated any sign of weakness in himself as a Roman.

Rutilius went to the rail and looked out and around at the dockyards and shipping. It reminded him strongly of Ostia, Roma's chief port 22 miles from the city, only it was far more spread out than Ostia's crowded port. The emporia, warehouses, arsenals, forii, docks here, and the number of ships, far exceeded Ostia's, he saw, for Ostia only had to handle the grain and luxury trade, primarily, whereas Alexandrea handled the business of three quarters of the world, serving as the the gateway to the West as well as to the farthest East.

Looking over the part he could see, Rutilius had the strong impression of the city could and should have been a world capital, not just a provincial city. No wonder, he thought, its last queen had aspired to make it just that, superseding Roma.

And the city was proved greater than any adversity too. It was still called the Day of Horror, the time when the earth shook far up in the Cretan mountains, then came a tower-high, thundering wave that rose up from the sea and swept over much of the city, drowning thousands and destroying everything--temples, warehouses, docks, ships, houses, palaces, arsenals--in its path. Only the Pharos was too strong in its foundations and too high for the mountainous wave to topple, though the arched ramp was heavily damaged by huge boulders from the seabed that the wave seized and flung against it.

Then the earth shook right beneath the city, and hundreds of buildings collapsed in a few moments time, burying uncountable numbers of people. Heaps of their bones even now were lying beneath the foundations of the present city.

Following that, Caracalla's massacre of a major part of its young men provided yet another terrible calamity, this time entirely man's doing. The emperor, a fratracide, came to present his crown and jewels at the Temple of Serapis, to commemorate his killing of his brother and rival to the throne, only to find that poets had found him amusing enough to pen satires about his behavior and even his brutish, common appearance, which they compared to a butcher's or a carter's or muleteer's.

The satires struck a raw nerve, particular the parts that dealt with his slaying his brother, which the poets thought a much finer figure of a man. Ordering all the young men of the city, all able to bear arms and the best looking, they brought by his soldiers to the great square in front of the Temple of Sarapis, and he watched as his executioners, at his signal, massacred them by the thousands.

That too the city survived and seemingly forgot, as it grew and flourished anew. How quickly and astonishingly it healed the most terrible wounds inflicted on it by nature and a barbarically cruel emperor, whom most Romans of Rutilius's class would just as soon forget though he was deified by the Senate the year following his assassination.

Rutilius, setting out for the Forum, the Library, and the banks, soon abandoned the litter. The rocking along with the jostling from other traffic in the congested port district was something he could not tolerate. He got down and sent it back, and went on foot instead. He could have hired a cisium or any other kind of vehicle, but wanted to look as inconspicuous as possible. Mercurius and Flautus did not look any different from the mass of people around him, not wearing soldiers uniforms or distinctive and showy costumes common to a patrician's attendants. He himself wore a simple, light tunic ordered brought from a public market's clothing shop, and wouldn't attract attention either to himself. Who knows if I won't be taken for an Alexandrian, dressed like this? he thought. Alexandria was renowned for being a nest of spies and intrique. Why make it easy for them to spot and track him, then report back to Attalus or whoever else wanted information on him?

All he carried on him was his signet ring, and Mercurious carried the emerald necklace, unable to trust it on the ship with so many mariners that might be tempted to take it.

As for finding his way around, he stopped from time to time to ask his whereabouts, for there were many Italians and Latin-speaking people amongst the throngs of Easterners of every race and language.

He came across a book seller in the Forum of Severus selling itineraries, bought one dealing with Alexandrea, and so had no more need of passers-by for information, thereby exposing himself to questions that might give away information about himself.

What should he do first? He felt impelled to get his finances taken care of, to find out how much credit had survived the loss of his northern estates, but something else was stronger in him, the crying need to know what was the truth about Christus. He couldn't put it in those terms, but it was there, nonetheless. And he couldn't resist it.

The distances were not great, as the Palace which covered one quarter of the entire city was nearby the shoreline of the harbor. Parts of the Palace even included the shore with it own royal docks, ships, and fortifications, and the Library was part of the Palace. At least it had been until lately. But the Library had been attacked by mobs (how Alexandrians loved a riot!) incited by a bishop who detested philosophical pagan literature, and what had survived was moved to various mansions in the neighborhood of the royal park. To one of these annexes Rutilius's itinerary led him. Annex it was, but it was a large palace in itself. How much greater had the original Library been? Rutilius wondered as he climbed the steps with Mercurius and Flautus. He passed the beggars that even here were crying out to passers-by. But when he went to give the beggar something, who was completely naked as most were here, an Egyptian in the robe of a librarian cautioned him.

"Sire, don't be angry if I tell you this for your own sake. These fellows here, they are not poor, they are able-bodied and only do this for a living, so they don't have to work for their bread and wine. Why, I have seen one get into a rich man's litter at the end of the day. I followed him just to find out where he would go, and he was taken to a mansion, and it was his! From then on I knew these men are just scoundrels who sponge on the pious and the gullible!"

"All of them do this?" Rutilius asked, not particularly liking the inference he was either pious or gullible.

"All but the ones that are maimed, or too sick and old or blind, or feeble in wits," replied his Egyptian. "But these able-bodied ones you see begging here are just shameless sponges on society." He spit in their direction. "Pfaugh! We try not to encourage them by giving money to them, but still there are thousands of this sort in Alexander's City. Only a great city of such wealth could afford to support so many sucking leeches as our divine Alexandrea birthed by the god Alexander!"

Rutilius thanked the man for his advice, though he seemed proud of his city's dubious claims to greatness, and he continued up the steps.

He had just reached the entrance portal, a huge bronze door already swung open to receive the day's scholars, when a someone departing glanced at him, then paused, and called "Roman!".

Surprised, Rutilius turned around and found a dark hued man in Greek clothes. "My name is Appollinarion of Heliopolis, Governor Rutilius," he introduced himself. "I have a most important message for you!"

Rutilius was surprised that he was accosted and wanted to get to the bottom of it.

"But I am dressed like any other here. And how do you know I am the Roman when we have never met?"

"I have a word from the great god Apollo of the Oracle of Oxythynchus, expressly addressed to you, sir! It is most urgent. Care to hear it for only one gold denarius?"

Rutilius frowned. He was walking away when the man called back at him, "All right, for no wages then! I journeyed all this distance for nothing? I hope you like it! 'He who is bruised in the head will be bruised in the liver! He who is fallen, will rise upright! He who bears a staff, will be made servant to Him who was lifted on a stake! Beware of the serpent at the breast, whose poison pierces to the heart like a javelin--"

What nonsense these AEgyptians spew out! Rutilius thought.

Suddenly, what with so many thieves about the public streets and buildings, he felt that the emeralds were in danger, and might be lost or stolen.

He had his bodyguards give him the emeralds, and he tied them inside his waist inside his robe inside a purse he had sewn into his clothing.

Feeling better, he continued on.

He paused inside the entrance, and a guard standing there caught his eye.

Rutilius pointed toward the man going down the steps. "Who was that that stopped me on the steps?"

The Roman guard shook his head. "No, sir, I don't know him. We get all sorts here. I can't say he is a regular guest though. He looks like a commoner, an AEgyptian to me. And the local people, the Egyptians, I mean, are generally not allowed in here."

Rutilius continued on, the man's words nagging him, even as he tried to dismiss them. "He who bears a staff, will be servant to Him who was lifted on a stake"-- what did he mean by that? And "serpent at the breast"?

Then worse, darker thoughts than these assaulted him, sucking the very breath out of him.

"These are great questions you bring to this place. But who are you to decide on such great questions as you dare to raise? The gods are great, high above the common earth, and you are nothing to them. They will not answer to a clot of mortal clay such as yourself! If you would seek to handle the great questions of man's destiny and purpose, know that they are great stones the gods have carved out, that will crush any mere man that is prideful enough to think he can hold them. If you cannot even overcome a Lugian barbarian who manhandles you, how can you overcome the greatness of these questions whose answers elude you?"

The violence of the mental assault stopped him in his tracks. He felt dizzy, unsure of himself, and very, very weak, as if all his strength was gone! He reached out for something to support him, but found only thin air. Someone grabbed his hand, but he knew it was his bodyguard, and ashamed, he shook it off.

He gathered all his will and determination and pushed forward against the giant hand that seemingly was pushing him backwards, and stepped through into the Library. For a moment he was blinded, as his eyes adjusted to the dimness of the interior after the blazing heat and light outside the portal. But as he regained his sight, his confidence returned, with his strength, and he walked forward, his guards following.

How cool and quiet the Library was! It was an entirely different world, totally unlike the noisy, teeming, boisterous, flamboyant city carrying on its innumerable activities outside its great bronze doors. He felt better almost immediately. Its spacious, lofty halls full of cool reason and stately philosophy, cleared away the troubling thoughts that had just assaulted Rutilius's bandaged brow.

As if to remind him, he saw a bust of Vespasianus set up in a spot nearest the entrance for guests. Popular in AEgyptus, with various tales of miraculous healing of laborers attributed to him, the emperor's cult was still rather strong, despite that he had ridiculed the idea he was divine as a god. When the Library was destroyed in part, this bust had been rescued and set up in the present spot.

"So here you and I meet, Emperor! How timely too, just as I come here hoping to settle some questions concerning you and the Jews you despised so much!" thought Rutilius.

He sent his name via Flautus to the librarians, and the chief librarian hurried despite his portly body to greet Rutilius. By the quick response his name brought, Rutilius saw that Alexandrea had indeed heard of his father, who had a distinguished career, great enough to still command considerable respect even into the Eastern Empire.

"You are most welcome! most welcome, Governor! Flaminius Tertius Obesius at your service! All our books and materials we have left here are at your disposal, sire! The fame of your distinguished scion has reached us, and as his son, you are are no less honored here. Stay as long as you wish, Governor! Go anywhere, and take anything out to read or copy, and my staff will fetch whatever you wish to see. As for pretty girls, dining, palace lodgings and entertainments, we have all for the mere asking!

Rutilius thanked the bowing librarian, who, despite his offer of the indulgements of the usual tourist, himself was a a well-known pagan scholar and philosopher, a cultivated man who had escaped the purges of Bishop Theophilus.

He was first shown a hall of the busts of famous donors, who had given manuscripts and substantial money gifts to the Library. Rutilius was not much interested as he moved through the hall until he came to Alexander's bust.

The most notable authors and leaders of the Empire were here in abundance.

The busts of the Plinii also caught his attention. They had witnessed and written up the anno "horribilus," the year Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae, and even Vespasianus's villa near Pompeii.

Then the bust of a woman he had not seen before, either in life or in marble, caught his eye due to the emerald-like decoration.

"Who was that beautiful woman?" he asked Obesius the librarian after he compared one of his emeralds to the woman's, and found the cut and size were identical.

"Oh, that one! Berenice! Quite a beauty in her day, was she not, Governor Numantianus? A Jewess, granddaughter of Herod the Great, king of Judaea, she attracted many a king's eye in her day. King Polomon of Cilicia was married to her, albeit briefly, at the time she made her munificent bequest of Cilician manuscripts and gold to the Library. Later on, when she was in Roma and acting as the consort of Emperor Titus, she added this fine bust of herself to the bequest in a special chapel that was in the main library. The chapel burned, she was never deified, even under Emperor Nerva her last consort--which had been her hope, as I gather she fancied herself as Hera, Queen of Heaven. As I was saying, she was also married, so to speak, to Titus--"

Rutilius was thunderstruck over the gossipy, fat, old librarian's revelation. Titus was involved with her? He had to ask the librarian a question, interrupting his litany of the notorius Jewess Bereniece's various intrigues, political and amatory, in Roma extending from the Flavian dynasty, Vespasianus to Titus to Domitian, on to the Emperor Nerva.

"Did she ever have any contact with the Plinii, that is, the Elder Plinius and Plinius the Younger?"

The librarian seemed ready to tell him everything, but hesitated, then said, "Why, sire, the Plinii knew absolutely everybody worth knowing, so of course they had their opinions about HER too. I doubt very much they would approve of such an adventuress in Roma's highest circles, including the imperial palace! Imagine, being called the New Cleopatra! That surely did Emperor Titus no amount of harm to his reputation. Surely, they must have written something to the effect in their letters. I can bring you our own collection, sir, for you to determine that yourself. Is that all?"

Rutilius had another question, more to the point. "I mean, did she ever have it said of her by any authority in Roma that the gods were punishing Roma with the destruction of Pompeii and the other cities that neighbored her?"

This threw the librarian into confusion. "Why, I know a lot of nasty things were said about her at the time, we have plenty records of them, but that--well, that is most unusual, most unusual! I really can't venture an opinion on it, as it seems most--ah, inopportune, if I may say."

He looked about nervously, as if to see if any servants were listening and might report on him to Roman spies or authorities.

Letting the question go, Rutilius shrugged and smiled. "No matter to trouble yourself about, Librarian! I meant nothing by it."

After a tour of the Donors and Benefactors, he was escorted to a huge, triton based, gilt-edged crystal table set with a single gilt chair with leopard-skin cushion, which had been Cleopatra's and her royal father's before her in the Palace until royal furniture was removed by the Romans to furnish the various annexes.

Strangely, it was this man who brought Rutilius a rare sacred book for him to examine--a copy of the book of Mattathias the disciple of Christus that had belonged to Bar-Tolmai (Son of Tolmai), another disciple of the Nazarene Christus who had gone to Armenia as a missionary and been skinned alive and then beheaded, all because he proclaimed the Resurrection of Christus.

Rutilus was astonished. This book had no philological value, being relatively new and composed by a non-Roman nobody, and so why should he be shown it? He had to settle the burning question about the possible connection between the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple and the destruction nine years later of Pompeii and its surrounding cities, including Vespasianus's villa. He ruled July 1, 69 until his death June 23, 69, just a few months before the destruction of Pompeii in late August, 79. His successor his eldest son Titus followed him as emperor, ruling from 79-81, a short time indeed. He had personally figured in the Temple's fiery destruction and the city's as welll, crucifying untold thousands of its citizens attempting to flee away. But all that was to restore order in the empire-- and of course no one could be spared who rebelled.

Rutilius had intended to consult the complete collections held here of books of Livy, Tactitus, and Suetonius concerning the other burning question. This was his emperor Honorius's area of chief concern as well. He wished to study more about the crucifixion of the Christus and his alleged resurrection from the dead, and had the time to do so, he would. He could not help expressing this to the librarian, and the librarian replied that he didn't wish to detain Rutilius on an inconsequental work, but this book had come through the fire of Theophilus's rampages by a seeming miracle. Not one page of it had been damaged, though all the books around it had been completely burned to ash. It was while a slave was raking the ashes after the fire, just to see if there were some bits of manuscripts worth saving, when this complete book of the disciple Mattathias came forth in his rake!

Rutilius could see that the event was indeed undeniably remarkable, and felt a bit embarrassed over his reluctance to read it. He wanted to say he didn't believe in Christian miracles, but the librarian was not so intolerant as to dismiss all such miracles, obviously, as this book's survival proved to him that such miracles could occur.

"Yet the disciple of Christus, Bar-Tolmai by name, perished, you say?" "Yes, he did," the librarian answered.

"And this book of his by Mattathias his fellow disciple was preserved by a miracle, you say?

Is the book then more important than a man's life to the gods?"

The librarian was not so uncultivated as not to take his meaning, and he smiled.

"Perhaps, we should ask the gods whether that is so. Or ask Christus himself, whom his followers claim is a still living god despite his crucifixion--indeed, calling him a Son of God, greater than all the gods of Roma and Greece and the Parthians's gods combined. Indeed, they claimed Christus alone was God, and all our gods are mere nothings!"

Whether it was the result of the assault on his mind as he was about to enter the Library, or the result of the fall he had suffered-- there was no knowing, the way the he reacted next. Both were intertwined in his most recent experience, and along with the questions that compelled him to find answers, there was something even deeper that drove him on--the condition that Lady Fulvia had put her long, slender, elegant finger on... when she said a divided house, no less a man, cannot stand for long.

"'Ask Christus'? The thought shot through Rutilius like a thunderbolt, and he stared at the librarian, speechless. Half of him wanted to ask, the other half was violently opposed. He felt like retching. "Ask Christus?" he sputtered, though it sounded so stupid when he said it, he was highly embarrassed.

The librarian looked at him more closely, somewhat confused and bemused at the same time.

"Why, I didn't mean anything much by that, sir. I just thought that the gods would know, and surely this Christus of the Christians would be able to explain why he preserved his disciple's book but not his skin and head. That is all I intended by what I said."

Rutilius turned away, his face flaming unaccountably. He was actually blushing! "Thank you, Librarian Obesius! I will carry on from here."

The librarian bowed, then left him in peace, and Rutilius buried himself in the book, Matthew's book, just to keep from the stares of Mercurius and Flautus, in case they had been following the conversation and noticed his own extreme discomfiture not only when entering the establishment but whenever Christus was mentioned to him.

The Librarian returned a short time later, with some museum attendants who would serve to fetch anything that Rutilius requested to see.

Rutilius looked up from the Gospel of Mattathias, which he had been reading, not able to put it down.

"Did you say, Librarian, that this book was spared in the execution of the owner? Where? And how?"

"In Albanopolis of Armenia, the gateway for the Scythians, Huns, and Alans that continually invade and ravage the Empire. Pantaenus, the philosopher, was present at the death, and he saw the value of the manuscript at once, when the effects of Bartholonew were retrieved from the mob and gone through by the authorities."

Rutilius knew the man.

"Pantanaeus, ah, yes, I know of his writings-- his philosophy is still widely respected among the works of the Stoics, and many think just below that of his superior, Epictetus. A fine thinker, Pantanaeus, and a cultivated spirit I would have liked to converse with!"

"Yes, he was all that. We have a rather fine statue of him here, in fact, in an alcove of the adjoining hall, you may wish to go and see when you find the time. But I see you have been reading the book, and so you deem it worthy of your interest after all?"

Again, Rutilius felt a tremendous surge of embarrassment. Why? He could not say. "Of course, it is a document, like like that of any other you find in religion. That is why I wish to find out what the man purposes in this writing, and why Bar-Tolmai would be so keen to risk his life among those barbarians of Abanopolis."

The Librarian said nothing, but nodded, then left him to his studies.

Rutilius, wanting to be left entirely alone, send the library attendants off to find various books he could think of that Roma's Library lacked, and then returned to the Gospel of Mattathias, reading as fast as he could to make the best use of his time.

His head was throbbing again, but he ignored it, and called for a little wine and water to help dull the pain if it could. He wanted to get to the bottom of his whole issue with Christus, if only he could do it via this writing of one of his disciples called Mattathias, whose name he soon learned meant "Gift of God."

Mercurius and Flautus stood guard while Rutilius worked. But eluding their eyes, an AEgyptian militiaman, the common type used for street police, came in from the back, slipping in somehow with his javelin.

Bearing out his name for swiftness, Mercurius was also very sharp-sighted. Though it was too late when he saw what was coming, he leaped across the table and threw himself over Rutilius just as the javelin struck deep into human flesh--his own.

Rutilius lay, stunned, on the floor amidst books and scrolls, and someone was lying across his body. The librarians and their servants ran to help him up, and Rutilius recovered, shocked but aware he had been nearly assassinated.

Confirming this, he saw Mercurius lying nearby with the javelin still embedded in his chest.

Staggering to his feet with the help of librarians, Rutilius was helped to a chair, and there he tried to make sense of it and form some kind of plan. Meanwhile, the Librarian made instant search for the culprit, and he was blocked at the doors to the rear by the alerted guards and captured.

Then the malefactor was was dragged by the legs, face down, to Rutilius and kicked over on his back, with spears pinning him down.

"Whom are you serving? Or did you do this on your own?" Rutilius demanded

"I serve no one. I acted on my own," the man claimed.

Rutilius frowned, and the guards kicked and punched the man.

"Enough lying to me!" said Rutilius. "I don't believe a word you say! I can have you tortured now so you will tell me the whole truth, and then have your lying tongue torn out by these men, but instead I will let the Prefect do that. We shall get to the bottom of your conspiracy against me!"

Rutilius ordered him be turned over to the Prefect for questioning and then punishment, which would be death of course, after all his information was extracted.

Other than the information the man was obviously withholding, he wanted nothing more to do with him after his killing his trusted servant. Let the local authorities give this dog a dog's death!

With his grim-faced, sad-eyed, surviving guard Flautus mirroring his own expression, Rutilius stepped outside the library, and found the city, famous for its holiday-celebrating, was staging a grand procession of some sort. How cruel the merry pipes and horns sounded at that moment to his ears! A festivity of a great personage or city father on the birth of a son or the marriage of his daughter? A holiday in honor of the emperor or a dead bishop? Rutilius inquired of the librarians, and found it was the Holiday after all, one devoted to Bast, the fire goddess's special day to be commemorated in all of AEgyptus. Even the Christians could not stop it, it was just too popular with the common people. Taking some of the glory, other gods that had escaped Bisho Theophilus's purges had their part in the parade too, with the city's surviving temples and priesthoods vying for attention and cheers from the crowds that jammed the streets where the parade of Bast passed.

"How can these powerful Bishops of Alexandria permit this to take place?" he wondered, having heard they were more powerful than the pagans and could govern the city however they wished. From the looks of it, Alexandrea, at least on certain holidays, was still firmly in the hands of the gods of AEgyptus, Roma and Graecia, not exclusively the Christian's god, Christus. Apparently, the Christians did not have the iron grip on Alexandrea that he had thought they would have.

Preceding the goddess brought to Alexandria from Bubastis in the Delta were forty satyrs with golden wreaths and waving flaming torches. Then a statue of her consort god pouring wine from a golden goblet. Next a huge winepress, a huge bottle made of panther skins containing thousands of gallons of wine, then women representing cities that worshiped Bast and had temples to her, then elephants, then five hundred girls in purple chitons with gold belts, then ostriches, camels, black Nubians, ivory tusks, a rhinoceros, Roman Legionaires, then the priesthood and priestesses, both sexes naked but for panther skins on their shoulders and gold headdresses spouting burning tapers, in their hundreds escorting the grand image of Bast on a golden car drawn by oxen whose horns were gilded and draped with lotuses... it was all lost on him, however.

All he felt he wanted to do was return to the ship with Mecurius's body, but how was he to get there through all this congestion and drunken revelry?

He turned to the librarians.

"Will you fetch me a raeda? I can't navigate all this! I must get my servant through these mobs, and only a raeda can do that for me. If I took litters, we'd probably be over-turned."

Obesius and the other staff hurried off to do his bidding.

The library had its own carriages in case the emperor or some high official came and needed them, and a raeda drawn by four horses was soon on its way from the stables.

Mercurius, wrapped in fine linen, was carried into the raeda and lain on a couch. Then Rutilius and Flautus entered.

With the horses making a way for them through the sea of humanity surging through the streets, they were soon able to reach the ship.

After Mecurius was taken to his cabin and lain out on his bed as he had ordered, Rutilius sent for the ship's doctor to attend to the body. He came at once and set to making the body ready for burial.

"I shall not be sleeping here again," thought Rutilius as he observed the doctor's work. Already he had a plan to leave the ship at Alexandrea, or he might decide to send it on to Caesarea without him on board, with the aim to foil the assassins trailing him like dogs on a hart--best not give anyone a hint of any of that however!

When the doctor finished, he let him go, then sat down in his chair and asked Flautus about Mercurius's gods.

Flautus bowed, but he seemed most reluctant, and it was hard to hear his responses.

"You mean he doesn't believe in the gods, he is atheist, or is it rather that he has no special preferences? Which is it?"

"Sire, he believes, but not in the gods of Roma and Graecia, but only in his one god."

Rutilius's heart sank. He dreaded what he sensed this was leading. "Which god is he then?" he pressed.

"Christus, sire."

Mercurius a Christian? Oh! Rutilius turned away. What was he going to do? Christians were everywhere these days! He was feeling hounded by this Christus!

Yet he had his duty to do. He composed himself with effort, then returned to Flautus.

"If Christian, then go fetch a bishop or somebody in that religion to come and hold the rites, speak the words they normally speak concerning the dead. I don't want Mercurius's soul wandering restless in the world, not on my watch! Let him depart in peace to the Underworld, to his place in Hades. So go at once!"

Flautus went out. Rutilius slumped back in his chair. But his own thoughts would not let him rest. Who, for instance, was trying to kill him? And why? He had gone about his business as discreetly as he possibly could-- and no ship had followed them, far as he knew. So why this deadly a reception so soon in Alexandrea? The reputation of this city for violence and riots and all sorts of intrique was not overstated, he thought, if this was how it was going for him at the onset.

Now how best was he to proceed? He had to give it careful thought, if he was to survive the next few days in port.

Flautus was successful. he brought an elder from a Christian assembly nearby. Fortunatus was his name. Rutilius then took charge.

"I am Rutilius, son of the Imperial Governor Lonchonius of Ravenna and Roma. My servant was brutally cut down in the flower of his life, seeking to defend me from an assailant. He was most honorable, and I wish to do all I can to render due respects. Could you please attend to him in the sacred traditions of your faith? I am not able to do so, as I do not share his belief. Only could you do them soon? My visit here in Alexandrea must be a brief one, Elder. I will be greatly in your debt for any services you render me and my servant, and will certainly make it worth your while."

The elder bowed to Rutilius. "You have honored Our Lord Christus and also the assembly of disciples by your request. I will do all you ask gladly. But I do not seek any reward or gratuity for this service, as it is my duty as the Lord's disciple. Now, sir, do you wish to be present, as I will be praying in the Name of Christus, and you may find that offensive?"

Rutilius thought quickly. How could he absent himself? He wasn't about to pretend to anyone he was a believer in Christus, but yet his slain servant was, and he wanted to respect that, as his servant had proven himself noble as he had given his very life for his. He felt most strongly that his Roman duty was to be present and told the elder that he was pleased to attend the service, wherever he chose to hold it. He added, however they chose to belief was their own business.

Fortunatus had further explanations for him.

"We have a burial ground if you choose to allow your servant to be buried there. It belongs to the assembly. The meeting hall is nearby, and we can hold the service there. If that agrees with you, sire, then only a time needs to be chosen."

"Everything you suggest is most agreeable to me in every rerspect, Elder Fortunatus" replied Rutilius. "Please proceed with the service as soon as possible."

The elder thought a moment, then said, "The climate does not permit a longer stay of the burial. Tomorrow morning then, could you be at the church behind the silversmith's shop on Canopus Sreet, Demetrius's by name? Come at your convenience, sire, and we will hold the service then. If your servant's body is prepared by us, that would be best too. We have experience and know what proper things to do. Could you have his remains transported with me back to the assembly. I have no attendants with me to carry him, and I do not wish to hire porters, as they are an irreverent and profane group who care nothing for our dead and treat us to their obscene jests. If your servants help me carry him, I would be most grateful, as your servant will then accorded dignity."

"I appreciate your discretion and your sentiments, Elder," replied Rutilius. "Certainly, my men here will accompany you and remove my servant to your assembly house at once."

This done, Rutilius felt much relieved. His servants escorted the elder out, and others joined them to take the body to the Christian assembly house.

When they had gone, Rutilius felt so strange, thinking he was actualy going to attend a service of the Christians in the morning! What a turn his life and itinerary had taken! It was almost unbelievable to him.

Rutilius turned his thoughts away now to his present needs. Now what was he do for accommodations? The bed clothes were ruined, of course-- there was blood on them. The cabin itself smelled of death. Perhaps he could have another bed of sorts made for him on deck for the night? That was where the captain often slept, preferring the open air to the stuffy little officer's quarters. He went up to the deck with Flautus to see, and thought to ask Firmius what could be done there.

He had no sooner stepped up on deck when the captain hurried to him.

"An imperial courier, sir, has come with a message for you, sire!"

Rutilius smoothed his hair and his clothes and went to the side and looked and saw the courier waiting below. He motioned to him to come aboard.

The guards stepped aside, and the courier bounded up the gangplank, a valise in hand.

The courier bowed before Rutilius. "Messages for Patrician and Governor Rutilius Numantianus!"

"I am he."

Rutilius took the tablets handed to him and walked away to first glance at them. He turned and commanded the courier to wait for his reply, then turned back to read the tablets in private.

A quick glance told him that they were from Lady Fulvia and his father! Somewhat apprehensive about news from his father, he broke the seal and read Lady Fulvia's first.

"Greetings to you, Governor! I write this so you may be at ease concerning me here. Coming to this place has been the answer for me. Many women reside here, most are widows like myself, seeking a refuge. A home is established, and they accepted me at once to be part of their company. It is the Order of St. Perpetua, so honored by the illustious name of the marytred Christian girl. Our purpose is not only for our own safety, but to serve the community and the poor as best we can. St. Perpetua was only nineteen when they cast her in the Flavian amphitheatre with lions! they tell me. I am assigned little household tasks, but am not proving good at anything but the garden and the flowers. I have picked apples and other fruits and put them in baskets! I do so enjoy that task. Household duties are too much for me to take on at present, the dear and sweet Mother of our Order decided. My endowment was not needed, they told me, but I gave it to them anyway--which included the estates remaining to me--for the relief of the poor and the elderly. I am relieved of that responsibility altogether. What a load they took from my shoulders! You yourself were so kind to help me find this home. I am happy here and love to live simply as all my sisters do. So have no care regarding me. Please write to tell me how you are doing, when you are able to spare the time, that is. Farewell!--Sister Fulvia

Rutilius set the tablet aside, with some mixed feelings about it. Then he quickly rubbed out the letter. Best let no one have a chance at reading about his dealings with her. She had chosen to bury herself in obscurity, so he wanted to insure that. He turned to his father's missive, almost dreading what it might contain about the sinking prospects of the empire in the West.

"Greetings to my only son, I have forwarded Lady Fulvia's letter to you by imperial post, which was sent to me first as she thought I would know of your whereabouts. I will await word of you and your journey. The emperor is well, and finds himself somewhat strengthened in his position of late. The risk he took proved worth it. Take care. Farewell!"

What? Was that all? What a disappointment! He knew his old-fashioned father was laconic, but this was so little he would have to turn to other sources to find out what was really going on in the West. Perhaps his father was ill again, and dictated this from his bed. He might even be on his deathbed, for all he knew! But his father wouldn't breathe a word about that, of course, not wishing to worry his son about such a "trifle."

He reread the letter, hoping to catch some telltale clew, but that "my dear only son" salutation, that was all he could find might mean his father was looking at his dimming life prospects and considering his heir and his own last arrangements. It was possible, that's all. Then that slight allusion to Honorius. At least that sounded a trace of a positive note in the letter--bespeaking some stability under this young emperor, who had found his footing despite Stilicho and gotten rid of him just in time to prevent Attalus from succeeding to the throne permanently. Two birds taken together in one fowler's net!

He then thought that his father at least expected to live to receive a letter from him about his journey and how he concluded the imperial business--and this comforted him. Having concluded this much, he felt a little better.

He rubbed the tablet clean, then went and handed them to the Tabellarius and imperial courier.

"Did anyone try to detain you, to talk to you about your business, Courier?"

"No, sir! I spoke to no one about it, as that is expressly forbidden!"

Rutilius looked at him keenly, but the courier's eyes remained steadfastly fixed on his, without a flicker. Rutilius decided to let him go. "Return to Ravenna immediately, and speak to no one. I have no reply at the moment."

He watched the courier leave, wasting no time as he made off for the next ship sailing for Italia. Hopefully, the courier would not be caught by his enemies and tortured, as often happened these days, he thought. But for their trouble his enemies would get nothing, even if they had intercepted the messages in transit.

Suddenly he had an idea.

He snapped his fingers and Flautus was instantly at his side.

"Follow him! See how he makes it to his ship, then return at once to me."

Flautus dashed off. A short time later Flautus returned, a strange look on his face.

"What happened?" Rutilius demanded.

"Sire, he was detained by several men in purple bordered noblemen's attire, and they went with him into a taberna with the sign of the slain god Osiris's male member. I didn't dare follow, for he might recognize me. They soon came back out, then each gave him some portion of money from a money-purse, and they parted, whereupon the courier proceeded to his ship and boarded it, which was laid close by the port taberna.

Since I do not know this foreign city, I would have gotten lost following them. Should I have followed them?"

Flautus looked apprehensive.

"No, you did wisely. I shouldn't wish to lose you too! Besides, I sent no reply, so they gained nothing more about me for their bribing an imperial courier. Normally, if caught they would be executed, but perhaps I shall have another chance. Just keep an eye out for them, as you know their faces. I'll have them arrested at once!"

Later, as Rutilius lay on deck in a bed of large cushions and blankets the captain had arranged for him, an awning above him of a cloth strung to javelins stuck into the deck to keep off insects, he couldn't find rest. His thoughts whirled over the two messages he had received. What could he say to either of them at this point? he wondered. Of course, he had nothing of merit. As for the attempt on his life, he didn't wish to worry his father or his friend Lady Fulvia--for he considered her a friend, by the warmness of her letter. They could be of no help. He would only make himself a worry to them.

He was relieved somewhat to know that he had done all he could for Mercurius. His expert gladitorial training had not saved his young life, but his master's was preserved, to be sure! He was forever indebted to the memory of Mercurious. He felt he had to have a handsome marble stone erected as soon a mason was hired to fashion it, with an finely-carved inscription about Mercurius's noble self-sacrifice, even though it was done in the line of duty.

The sea breezes were cool and kept the gnats and other nighttime insects from bothering him. He would have slept now, being at ease in his body, but yet he kept thinking about Mercurius. His surviving family? Where might they live? He could probably never find that out.

When the morning came, he hadn't slept more than a few fitful snatches of sleep between troubled dreams which made no sense to him. Imagine, in a dream he found himself launching off a high cliff, the whole world stretching like a vast bowl below him--and fortunately he left that dream before he found out what it would have been like to reach the bottom.

He rose stiffly, and allowed his servants to attend to him. Dressed, his hair combed, his hands and face washed, he was brought some watered wine, bread, and cheese, with some very excellent Fayum grapes and dates of huge size and unsurpassed sweetness. Shipboard fare was so poor in comparison, but he picked at this meal, with most of it going to Flautus and his body-servants, though they ate from the crew's mess.

Breakfast over, Rutilius, feeling tense and on edge, decided to go directly to the Christian assembly off Canopus Street and attend its funerary service for Mercurius. As soon as that was over, he would return to the library at once, to conclude his researches as far as possible. Knowing how Judaea had been ravaged end to end by bulldog-jowled Vespasianus and his son Titus while crushing the Jews' revolt, he knew he wouldn't have access to another such library until he returned to Roma's. If he wished such ready information as this library had to put at his fingertips, he must take full advantage of it now. Here were the very best chances of discovering answers to his questions.

As for returning to the unpleasantness of the scene of Mercurius's death, well, that couldn't be helped. The bloodstains were no doubt by this time scoured from the floor, but not from his mind-- surely not for a long time to come.

Rutilius attended the service, and found it tasteful, solemn, and an honor to Mercurius. He was grateful for the way he himself was shown to his seat but, other than this courtesy, he was not given any special attention or singled out by remarks in the service that he might well have found embarassing to himself before an assembly of strangers, Christians at that. As was the custom, Mercurius was not shown, and was interred immediately after the ceremony, but this Rutilius declined, as there was no arrangement made for his own safety.

Giving the assembly elders a gift of money for the ceremony and the interrment, Rutilius departed by a side entrance he had seen on the way in. He and his guards went round, not directly, to his waiting cisium. But he knew better than to take it at that pubic a spot, so he kept walking. Further on, Flautus brought the cisium up and he jumped in with Flautus and they were driven directly to the Library.

All these were simple precautions in a crowded, cynical, inquisitive, dangerous, intrigue-ridden metropolis such as Alexandrea. For a sum of money (it didn't require much), certain people other people found inconvenient for various reasons, regularly vanished. Apparently, he was judged "inconvenient" to someone, was he not? Now had the Prefect gotten any information from his would-be assassin? He hoped he would find out something, and for that reason intended to contact him as soon as he reached the Library safely.

Yet when the cisium drew up at the Library, a courier was waiting for him at the entrance, which had to mean Ravenna had some new directive for him to comply with.

Rutilius gritted his teeth. What is it now? Rutilius thought irritably. He had just come from a funeral, and hated the thought of facing the directives of the Emperor again so soon. Perhaps he had heard of his making a change in his itinerary and demanded to know the reason?

He received the message rather ungracefully, ordering the man to wait his reply, then hastily broke the seal and caught the drift of it from the first sentence.

His face paled, and he felt his knees so weak he had to find some place to sit down. Fortunately, there was a bench just back of the pillars, and it was secluded enough to afford him some privacy. Flautus stood guard, keeping everyone away, from beggars to welcoming librarians, as he turned back to the tablet.

"Your birthday approaches soon, my son, you are fully a man of the world, well able to conduct your business affairs with prudence and circumspection. I know my trust in you is well founded, and your prospects will not miscarry due to the usual follies--even women do not exercise undue claim on your attention, I may safely say. Perhaps you will yet provide an heir to carry on the family name. I leave that matter with you to determine. I myself have no hope of seeing him, as I have given up hope of seeing you on your return home. My health fails by the day. While I still retain some strength, I choose to step out of life, retiring from my public post--" "--So tomorrow, after meeting the imperial post, I will call my physician. I will drink the wine undrugged, but full strength, and my veins will be opened. I know Honorius would not approve this practice any more, but it was considered dignified in the past, and I see no reason for me to linger in bed, helpless in the hands of servants--"

The tablet dropped out of Rutilius's hand and clattered on the pavement as it fell.

It was soon thrust back into his hand, and he dimly realized Flautus had retrieved it. Numbly, he finished it.

"I have signed the necessary documents. All estates remaining transfer to you, except one nearest Syracusa to support your mother in her old age. The stewards have all been notified, and I made the precaution of sending inspectors to each one, and they will give you reports of how the estates have been managed in your absence. That should keep the stewards on their toes until you can go and see for yourself. You need not maintain your mother in your own household, son, nor be concerned about her care and provision, as I foresee you will be chiefly occupied with further oversight in imperial public affairs, just as you are now. There are few brave, honest, and disinterested men in public affairs, and the Emperor prizes men such as you--so you will probably never lack for high office in the government.

If I have overlooked something important to you, forgive your father and may you do well by my name and the name of our ancestors. My advice as a father ends with this instruction: In everything do honor to Roma! Be a Roman as we Romans must be, whatever the personal cost. You cannot do more, but you could do less if you depart from the path allotted to you by the fates. Look to your blind-side. Trust no one. Farewell."

Rutilius was beside himself with grief and fury. He wanted to fling the tablet as far as he could, but he could not do that, for he would disgrace himself before inferiors. No, he must bear this moment, hard as it was to control the blood pounding in his temples.

He mastered his emotions somehow, then stood rigidly, and called for the courier.

"Go inform the Prefect of the city at his palace, I will be coming to hear the results of his inquiry into the matter concerning us."

He knew he need say no more, the Prefect would know his meaning and the business they had concerning the assassin.

It occurred to Rutilius the moment the courier hurried off that the Prefect may have sent the assassin. Well, if so, he would find out soon, he thought.

Proceeding into the Library, he was inside when he realized the tablet was still in his hand. He hadn't given it up! But he couldn't let it go-- it was his father's last will, his last words, and he was not going to erase it. Rutilius slipped it inside his robe, to share the same sewn-in pouch where he kept the doomed Immadatha's crown jewels, the seemingly ill-starred emeralds Lady Fulvia had given him.

Touching them briefly again, he felt their cold fire and was reminded to inquire further regarding Princess Berenice's use of them while she spun her intrigues within the highest imperial circles. Evidently, when she was banished of from Roma and the bed of her lover, Titus, the emeralds were left behind, reverting to the Imperial Treasury. Even without them, away in Jerusalem, she continued her intrigues, no doubt. He had to know what exactly what this "New Cleopatra" had done during the fatal years of Titus's destruction of the Jewish temple and on to the destruction of Pompeii. What events had she caused? What disasters were due to her?

It was wonderful how the thoughts of other men of affairs could calm his own turbulent mind! He soon wasn't quite so shaken and dismayed by his father's suicide and realized there was nothing he could do to change his father's decision anyway--since the deed was already done by the time he received the courier.

"Be a Roman, regardless of personal cost!" his father had sternly charged him. So must he be! He must not be overpowered by weakness. He must be strong and resolute to the end!

After an hour or so of investigation, inquiring into Suetonius, Livius, Tacitus, even some private diaries forwarded from Roma by the aged Berenice just after Emperor Nerva's short reign ended in his death, Rutilius was exhausted, but felt he could drop his researches. He borrowed a copy of the Gospel of Johanan, an apostle of Christus who lived and was not martyred, dying peaceably at 100 or so years of age. His Revelation book was most interesting, he found, and he wanted to study it at his leisure in the days ahead.

At his word, Flautus hurried to fetch the cisium. Rutilius lost no time in going to the Prefect he had already alerted.

Escorted, Rutilius was informed the Prefect was waiting for him in the principal hall of the palace. It had been an imperial favorite's in a reign before Cleopatra's--perhaps a concubine's in her father's reign. When she lost it, or died, it reverted to Cleopatra, and was used as a storage for all sorts of oddments from her palace which she cleared of most of her father's furniture and decorations, refashioning the palace according to her own taste. He paused to examine a spider-god.

Even Roman religion, with all its love for low-living gods and their orgies, wouldn't revere such a low insect as this! It disgusted him, but he knew frogs and lice were also revered by the Aegyptians--they even erected immense temples to vermin such as mice and rats.

The Prefect, Tryphonius Symmachus Sacaeus, was a man of few words and brusque manner despite his practiced smile--an old style official, Rutilius found, much like his father and the Senator Fabio, in fact.

When he was ushered into the hall, Prefect Sacaeus came to him, recognizing Rutilius's higher nobility and public office. He led Rutilius off the main hall into a much smaller but still lavishly appointed private chamber, perhaps his own personal place to get away from servants and spies.

Given a seat, Rutilius sat and waited, as the Prefect took a few paces away, paused, then faced him and opened the conversation.

"You need not tell me your reason for visiting Alexandrea, Governor. It is an honor for us to be your host, as long as you wish to remain here. However, I suspect your business for your emperor will take you away soon, so I will not detain you with banquets and state affairs and the local nobility, who are all talking about you of course--'the young mystery nobleman from Ravenna,' the ladies say."

The Prefect struck his hands together, then an aide came in. "The Governor will be departing shortly. See that he arrives safely wherever he directs you! I myself will see him to the entrance!"

The aide-de-camp saluted, then left them.

The Prefect smiled. "How are things in Ravenna, Governor? I hear Emperor Honorous is in good health?"

But Rutilius had come on business only, and was in no mood for a social call and exchanging trifling pleasantries.

"Prefect, what did you learn from the man I sent to you? That is uppermost on my mind."

The Prefect smiled, but it quickly changed to another expression, much more guarded.

"Nothing, Governor. He refused to speak, and I regret I must inform you that my guards were a bit too rough with him and he--well, he--"

"He is dead, you mean? By Jove! What good is he then to me, Prefect? I could have had him executed myself, without recourse to your offices! I see my mistake in sending him to you. My time here is wasted. I must go."

A very awkward pause occurred, in which they stared at each other. Rutilius rose, and the Prefect smiled despite the reproach. "As you wish, Governor. Again, I regret what happened, but--"

Spare me your condolences, Prefect."

"But I ask you to wait a moment, Governor. Let me show you the view from this window."

The Prefect went to the curtained side of the chamber, the largest window in the chamber, and pulled the curtain away. Alexandrea, founded by Alexander the world conqueror, shone below them in all its glory--the Pharos, the harbor crowded with the world's shipping, the bustling markets and forii, the pillared, four mile long Canopus Street, hippodrome, arena, baths, obelisks, and templed promenades.

"Yes, for all its beauty and splendor, it is a turbulent snake-pit I must govern, Governor! There would be bloody riots across the whole city if I press too deeply into the affair you suffered at the library. Intrigues and attempted overthrows of the government are a daily pasttime here. Yet I wouldn't wish the scandal of a massacre to be put down to my record while administering the city. Would you? Alexandreans never forget or forgive an effront. They are very, very proud, and jealous of their reputation of this city, despite being Roman subjects. To them this city remains the queen city of the earth. But beware of so much beauty and spendor! This city is full of poison pens. They record everything, and your name and my name would be made odious for generations. I don't think you would like that, as their poison will spread to the whole empire. For that reason I thought it best to tread lightly in this unfortunate mishap you suffered. Furthermore, I answer chiefly to my emperor in Nova Roma, not yours, and if there is another massacre here in putting down an insurrection or riot, our rule is strict, my life would be forfeit--in order to pacify the city. I could not even hope for exile to some Greek isle like Patmos."

"But Prefect, how could this one assassin be the cause that ignites all that?" Rutilius protested.

The Prefect smiled. "That is ample cause here. You see, he could be in the employ of certain powerful and, let me guess, influential men of high position in society. Such men know how to spread rumors that stir up the ignorant rabble and bring thousands to fight against Roman authority. These men are not loyal to Roma, you see. They are loyal to this city above everything--and to themselves."

"Do you know these conspirators? Arrest them! They have no freedom too commit more crimes under Roman law. Conspiracy against a state official is sedition against the State. Death is their just punishment."

The Prefect spoke more slowly, as if to explain public administration to someone who was already an expert at it despite his relative youth, having lived and breathed public affairs since he was born in the house of a high official of the imperial service.

Rutilius could hardly bear listening, it was such a condescending lecture from the much older man, though he accorded him rspect at least for his venerable age.

"That wouldn't go over well with the classes they represent," the Prefect advised him. "Even if I arrested all the conspirators, or tracked down the ringleaders in the case that concerns you, there are many more itching to take their places. No, it is best we let sleeping dogs lie, Governor. That is my best advice. That is how to treat these disturbances here, I find. And the man you sent, as you know, is no longer able to give any information as to who hired or sent him. Again, I render you my regrets for that, but do feel free to engage any amount of soldiers from the Praetorium for your entourage while in this city, Governor. If there is any other service you desire, I would be pleased to render it at once--"

Rutilius was disgusted beyond words. Conciliation was one thing, but this spineless administration in his view was an insult to Roman authority, an effront no Roman should ever resign himself to. He moved toward the door, and the Prefect took the cue and escorted him to the entrance, all without one word passing between them.

Rutilius was so angry he didn't even depart with the usual courtesy, he just climbed in the cisium with Flautus and they were driven off with mounted guards going before and behind them. As for additional guards, who could inform on his movements to the Prefect and whomever they were bribed to inform, he wanted none of them.


"Last Ship to Massilia," Part III, Vol. IV, Retrostar

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